GODFREY — For 30 years, the RiverBend Growth Association has served as both the chamber of commerce and the economic development organization for the Greater Alton area, and shows no sign of slowing down.
The RBGA’s Annual Dinner on Jan. 22, held at The Commons at Lewis and Clark Community College, was an opportunity to celebrate its contribution to the community and recognize that community, as well.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost helped kick off the event, and RBGA outgoing Chairman John Keller of Carrollton Bank presented awards to the evening’s recipients.
Outgoing RBGA board members were recognized for their service, including Cas Sheppard of Sheppard, Morgan & Schwaab, Al Suguitan of the Greater Gateway Association of Realtors, Martha Warford of Beverly Farm, Dwight Werts of Werts Welding, and Ed Kasten of Liberty Bank.
The 2014 Small Business of the Month winners, selected by an awards committee for outstanding efforts and leadership in the community, also were recognized during the dinner. They were Amarillo Tex’s Steakhouse, Frank Bemis & Associates, Spencer T. Olin Golf Course, Cork Tree Creative, Catdaddy’s Tavern, Airport Plaza Bowl, Roberts Motors, Andy’s Auto Body and Car Care, Bella Milano, Schiber Trucking, AdVantage News, and Kitchen and Bath Outlet Center.
This year’s recipient of the Ambassador of the Year award was Pat Schwarte, sales representative for Riverbender.com. While accepting his award, Schwarte praised the entire RBGA.
“Every ambassador has taken time off work or made various other sacrifices to further the RBGA’s cause,” he said. “It is amazing to me how so few people, a staff of five (referring to the RBGA staff), get so much accomplished. President Monica (Bristow) is effective, hard-working and best of all connected. She interacts effortlessly with civic leaders and politicians as well as RBGA board of director members and ambassadors.
“Director of Development Joell Aguirre is a tireless force of nature who treats all members, ambassadors and prospective members in a friendly and inclusive manner.”
Chairman’s Awards, given to businesses and individuals who “have reached a significant milestone or helped the organization, community, and region in some way” went to Raging Rivers Water Park, Mulberry Partners (responsible for the Trailblazer Commons housing development adjacent to Lewis and Clark Community College), and Tom Long and Vern Van Hoy. In addition to Van Hoy-Long Companies (consisting of Colman’s Country Campers, Traube Awning, Rock Spring Golf Course, Spencer T. Olin Golf Course, Rolling Hills Golf Course, and seven area Little Caesar’s), the pair also own Nature’s Second Chance Hauling LLC, which handles 20 percent of the nation’s cardboard recycling, keeping more than 1.2 million tons of cardboard out of landfills each year.
But the high point of the evening was the presentation of the Spirit of Tourism Award by Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Brett Stawar and Alton Mayor Brant Walker to Leroy Emerick, known throughout the area as “Mr. Softball.”
“Brad Cunningham called me one day and said they were organizing the Alton CVB, and would like me to be a member,” Emerick said. “I have now been with them for 30 years, and during that time, my project was to bring softball to the city of Alton, which I did.
“This is a wonderful award and I appreciate it.”
The evening concluded with outgoing chairman John Keller passing the gavel to Karen Cooper of Illinois American Water.
“It has been an honor to be the chairman, and I have enjoyed it,” Keller said.
He also thanked the many people who work behind the scenes to make the RBGA and the region a success.
“You get the right people in the right place to make sure that our communities continue to track, support and grow businesses.”
“John, you are far more than your humble description of yourself,” Cotton said to Keller as she presented him with his award. “Genuine leaders don’t go out and search for consensus; they actually build it. John, you lead with a style, attitude and sense of humor that inspire collaboration and consensus-building, and with that you have helped the association attain results.”